14 August 1995 – France 2 – Les quatre vérités/ A Few Home Truths – Pierre Salignon, MSF- FRENCH

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Translation: 

TV journalist: Hello. Pierre Salignon from Médecins Sans Frontières is with us. Thank you for coming in. You were there not long ago. A Médecins Sans Frontières plane left on Friday; where is it now and what is it doing?

Pierre Salignon: It’s at the airport in Banja Luka. It has delivered 30 tonnes of supplies, mainly sanitation logistics. This is on top of the equipment we’ve managed to bring in by road – drugs and medical supplies for the 150,000 people on the roads around Banja Luka.

TV journalist: There are 150,000 people? There’s talk they may be 200,000. How can so many people be helped in such a small area?

Pierre Salignon: This is a whole group of people who left in a panic. They’re advancing towards Banja Luka, the main town in the region. A column of refugees very quickly went in the direction of Serbia, mostly because people didn’t want to stay in Bosnia as the men among them are scared of being forcibly conscripted or because they wanted to get away from what they’d been subjected to. They’re on their way to Serbia, which we know is blocked. As for what we can do for them, we have prepared health posts along the road so that our mobile teams can treat and provide people with assistance and give them water, food and drugs.

TV journalist: I suppose the closure of the border we saw on the early morning news poses a very serious problem?

Pierre Salignon: A very serious problem indeed. These people have been on the road for several days already and the longer the situation lasts, the greater the risk of a humanitarian emergency. It’s humanly urgent to do something, not only to assist these people but also to find a solution. The solution is re-opening the border with Serbia, but it’s not up to us to say, given that it’s ethnic partitioning that’s causing the population displacements we’re witnessing. So we’re seeing people being re-settled in Kosovo, in Voïvodine, in east Bosnia in areas that have been cleansed; I’m referring here to Srebrenica. All we can do is acknowledge the unacceptable.

TV journalist: We’re seeing a real partitioning. Each camp is positioning its pawns, and these pawns are human beings.

Pierre Salignon: Exactly. And we’re not hearing much about the non-Serb community around Banja Luka. There are 30,000 of them in a zone that was cleansed in 1992; we haven’t forgotten the Omarska concentration camps. These people are the victims now with the arrival of these refugees. They’re returning with quite a lot of hate against them. They’re showing up at their houses, making them leave and forcing them to take to the road. There’s been some brutality. All we can do is acknowledge that the ethnic partition – in effect sought by the international community because it didn’t assume its responsibilities and in 1991 accepted this method for restabilising borders in Europe – is happening now and is almost over.

TV journalist: Ultimately, should this partitioning, which is visibly happening really fast as we’re seeing with these very substantial population movements, be concluded before winter?

Pierre Salignon: It’s obvious that a fourth or fifth winter is going to be problematic for the region. I think that’s why diplomatic efforts are being deployed so quickly. I’m
thinking more particularly of the enclaves – Gorazde, Sarajevo, Tuzla. Another winter in these areas is going to be a major problem and the international community needs to find solutions, and fast.

TV journalist: Three weeks ago you were in Srebrenica, which hardly gets a mention anymore. It looks like the latest emergency pushes the previous one onto the back burner.

Pierre Salignon: Yes, you’re right. But on the human level, it’s clear that Srebrenica is nothing like what’s happening in Krajina. People are suffering, so I have no wish to enter into a hierarchy of horror, but Srebrenica was an enclave, which isn’t the case for the people in Krajina who are in areas taken and cleansed by the Serbs in 1991. Srebrenica was an enclave besieged for three years. We know how that ended – with the forced deportation of almost 30,000 people and up to 10,000 still unaccounted for.

TV journalist: The Americans are saying there are mass graves near Srebrenica. We must exercise extreme caution, but we’ve seen pictures in some of our newspapers this weekend. Do you think there’s any truth in it? There are said to be 3,000 bodies buried in different locations.

Pierre Salignon: All I can say is that our team stayed right up to the end, until all the people they had access to in Srebrenica were evacuated. They weren’t witness to actual massacres, but they did see civilians being bombed, forcibly displaced and men being separated from women and children. It’s plain that 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000 people – the figures are relatively high and rising –, as many as 10,000 are missing. We even have men missing from among our staff. We know that our team heard automatic gunfire long after the population was assembled in Potocari. There’s serious concern about what happened to these people, especially as the ICRC has still no access. They’ve visited some of the detention centres but not all of them. So we’re seriously worried about the fate of these 12 to 60 year-old men.